There is now a stark contrast between the contracting defence budgets of many Western states and the growing military spending and arms procurement that characterises the Gulf, the Asia-Pacific and Latin America, according to an important report by a leading think tank Tuesday.
This fact has significant implications for Western arms manufacturers, “the annual survey: The Military Balance,” published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), noted.
Faced with contracting domestic order-books, military exports to other regions are more important than ever for US and European defence companies, the independent institute added.
“However, where more basic military equipment is concerned Western arms exporters face strong and in some cases growing competition from non-Western defence industries, notably those of Brazil, China, Russia, Singapore, South Africa and South Korea”, IISS went on.
The different types and quantities of military equipment that developed and developing countries are seeking reflects the disparity in defence-budget trajectories between them.
With straitened finances as well as a relatively new focus on combating asymmetric threats, developed countries have diminishing appetite for grand defence projects, the document explained.
In the naval arena, for example, this means fewer large ships and larger numbers of smaller, multirole vessels.
In the US, the navy has cut its Zumwalt class destroyer programme from 32 to three ships, but still plans to procure 20 smaller, modular Littoral Combat Ships.
In the UK, an aircraft carrier will be mothballed and the number of frigates in service reduced to 13, while the Type-26 replacement frigate will probably be smaller and more versatile. Meanwhile, in India, China and Brazil, there is still a desire to expand or establish fleets based around aircraft carriers and other large ships.
“In the Gulf, the threat perceived from Iran with its growing missile capabilities and nuclear potential is stimulating the Gulf Cooperation Council countries including Saudi Arabia to spend heavily on defence, and they are emphasising combat aircraft and ground-based air defences in their procurement programmes”, the report pointed out.
In the maritime arena, Iran’s extensive fleet of small, fast attack craft, increasingly armed with capable anti-ship missiles, is encouraging GCC states, concerned to protect their offshore oil and gas infrastructure, to build up their own small attack craft capabilities, it went on.
“At the same time, the role of the United States remains key to security in the Gulf. There is no effective multilateral defence cooperation under GCC auspices, and it is the US that provides the ‘common operating picture’ for missile defence in the region”, IISS stated.
In Asia, increasing defence budgets and expanding military procurement programmes have provoked much speculation about an ‘Asian arms race’, and about whether China’s major efforts to enhance its military capabilities combined with its greater strategic assertiveness – particularly in its maritime littoral – are fuelling such military competition.
In reality, while plans to expand submarine fleets across the region do suggest efforts to counter China’s growing capabilities, the factors influencing Asian defence spending and military modernisation are diverse, ranging from the region’s relative economic vibrancy to suspicion and distrust among small and medium powers, the survey concluded.